Why La Russa didn't use Hendriks in ninth vs. Angels


There was Liam Hendriks, getting loose in a hurry after the White Sox tied things up in the ninth inning.

It's the kind of thing $54 million closers are supposed to do.

Sunday night's game flipped when the White Sox were gifted the tying run, Los Angeles Angels closer Raisel Iglesias turning a 4-3 game into a 4-all affair when he tried to catch Nick Madrigal in a rundown and instead threw the ball nowhere near third baseman Anthony Rendon. Madrigal scampered home and breathed new life into the series finale in Anaheim for the White Sox.

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Hendriks was spotted on TV, warming in the bullpen, and indeed Tony La Russa had him up for a reason. But when the White Sox failed to score any more runs in the top of the ninth, the South Side skipper stuck with José Ruiz, who had pitched a perfect eighth. When Ruiz gave up a leadoff single, bringing up Mike Trout, La Russa delayed things long enough to make a change.

But Matt Foster entered, not Hendriks.

With the game on the line, Foster struck out Trout but eventually gave up a walk-off homer to Jared Walsh, which brought the game to a 7-4 conclusion. Hendriks, the White Sox biggest offseason acquisition, stayed in the bullpen as the Angels took the series.

Why? Allow La Russa to explain.

"It’s a tie score. The best you’re going to do is, if you get three outs, you’ve still got to play the 10th. And you could make the closer get six outs," he said. "It just didn’t make sense.

"And then we have Foster, that’s another reason. Here’s a bulldog who was going to pitch only in a situation like this. I was, hopefully, going to give him a day off, another day (after Foster pitched in the first two games of the series). He answered the bell.

"Liam, if we had taken the lead, he was coming in, obviously. If we’re home, it’s different. He gets three outs, we can win it. Only thing you can do is be certain about him getting six outs, maybe win it. I don’t think that’s a good move."

Indeed, playing on the road, La Russa's decision was understandable. The best-case scenario was Hendriks pitching two full innings, silencing the Angels in the ninth, then sitting while the White Sox scored a tie-breaking run, then silencing the Angels again in the bottom of the 10th.

There are a lot of multi-inning weapons in the White Sox 'pen, but it might not be a habit La Russa wants to get into with his All-Star closer. Hendriks was brought in for a four-out save two nights earlier. He gave up a ninth-inning home run after the White Sox offense scored five runs in the top of the inning.

But no matter the explanation, the optics weren't wonderful viewed through the eyes of a White Sox fan, and the outcome of three of the first four games of the season compounded the frustration.

Hendriks, the shiny new toy, stayed in the box in favor of Ruiz, who despite only giving up one run in a handful of appearances last year, posted a 5.63 ERA the last time he played a full season. Foster's done some good work early this season, appearing in three of the team's first four games, but there will always be second-guessing when the result is what it was Sunday night: a walk-off homer.

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